COLUMBIA — By the end of last season, Missouri guard Max Copeland had grown tired of his teammates joking that he was the “undersized” guy of the offensive line.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
So this offseason, Copeland – who was listed at 6 feet 3 and 290 pounds last season – set out to do something about it. He said he weighed in at 308 last Thursday, the opening day of preseason camp, which he called the fruition of all the hard work he's put in.
“That became an inside joke with O-line last year, just me being the undersized guy,” Copeland. “I’m a little bitter about it, but it gave me good perspective. It was very humbling.”
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who coached the offensive line last year with Bruce Walker, said Copeland – a former walk-on who started 11 games as a junior – was at a little bit of a size disadvantage last season in the Southeastern Conference, which features some of the biggest, strongest interior tackles the nation has to offer.
“I kind of teased him about being undersized last year so he took that to heart,” Henson said. “He worked really hard in the weight room to add mass and weight, and I think he added good mass because he's still moving like he was when he was 285.”
Walker, however, said he would like to see Copeland trim down some, just to improve his stamina.
“He had a couple extra sandwiches this summer and we’re getting that taken care of,” Walker said. “We like to have our guys lean on the side of being able to move instead of being real heavy, especially when it comes to maintaining our stamina. We want to move and be quick. For what we’re doing, we don’t want to mash dudeS, we want to drive guys.”
Even still, Henson said Copeland – who earned a scholarship before last season and is currently listed as the starter at left guard – should be an inspiration to other players.
“The biggest thing about Max Copeland to me is that he's a testament that if you want to do something bad enough and you'll work hard enough for it, you can become it, whether it's a left guard in football of whatever it is in life,” Henson said. “That's what I tell my guys. How is he doing this and other guys aren't? It's called working and wanting it.”
More on the O-line
I recently got a chance to catch up with offensive line coach Bruce Walker, who had some quick thoughts on Missouri’s five starters on the line. You can read his thoughts on Copeland above and on senior left tackle Justin Britt in a story you can read here, but here’s what he had to say about the other three.
• Walker heaped praise upon junior Mitch Morse, who figures to be the full-time starter at right tackle after starting last season at center.
“It’s almost impossible to go from center to tackle but Mitch Morse did and you saw his progression,” Walker said. “We got down to the end of the season and we’re playing Kentucky and Tennessee and he was just playing his tail off. He’s really become a rock in there for us at right tackle. I’m really happy with Mitch Morse.”
Walker said the reason most interior linemen can’t shift to the outside has to do with the different skill-sets required to play each position.
“The truth is you’ve got to be a different cat to play on the edge in this offense,” Walker said, “because the cats you’re blocking are like Shane Ray and Kony Ealy, okay? Fast dudes. It’s not like blocking a three-technique in space…that requires girth and power. So it helps to be a longer guy or an athletic guy like a Britt or Mitch Morse.”
• One player who has been a pleasant surprise since the spring is sophomore Connor McGovern, who is currently listed as the starter at right guard. At 6 feet 4 and 310 pounds, he has the size of a prototypical guard in the SEC, but Walker says he needs more experience after appearing in nine games last season as a reserve.
“I think Connor just needs to play,” Walker said. “Because he didn’t really play last year, I think he’s a guy that’s going to be better in game five than he is game one. Just from that experience of getting out there and playing, you gain a bank of knowledge. You keep at it and then you start realizing you’ve seen this before and you come back to it. Having experience up front is priceless on the O-line.”
• Walker said sophomore Evan Boehm, who started all 12 games at guard last season and is making the transition to center, is slowly but surely becoming more consistent with his snapping. This is a necessity after Missouri struggled in that department all season.
“He’s worked hard this summer on his snaps,” Walker said. “He struggled snapping in the spring a little bit and he’s been a lot more consistent this fall.”
Boehm, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 315 pounds, figures to give the Tigers a bright, young anchor in the middle of the offensive line. But when asked about the importance of having that in the SEC, Walker just chuckled.
“It’s important to have five of them,” Walker said with a laugh. “They all have to be an anchor, they've all got to be good. Not just one guy.”
Walker added that with three scrimmages coming up before the Tigers’ season opener on Aug. 31 against Murray State, there’s still plenty of room for movement on the depth chart.
“There’s a lot of guys getting better, so the depth chart, I would suggest, will look a lot different in a couple weeks than it looks right now,” Walker said. “What that’s going to be, I don’t decide. The players will.”
Senior safety Matt White wore a red non-contact jersey for the first time all camp due to a strained groin. Senior receiver Jaleel Clark also wore a red jersey for the first time because of a bruised knee.
Senior receiver Marcus Lucas wore a red jersey for the second straight day because of a hamstring strain. Sophomore receiver Wes Leftwich, who has a strained hamstring, and freshman cornerback John Gibson, who has a sprained ankle, each wore red jerseys for the third straight day.
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